India has many National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs). The key ones are National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), National Commission for Women (NCW), National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC), the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) and the National Commission for Minorities (NCM).
With a few exceptions, these NHRIs have been used as a forum for rehabilitation of political leaders irrespective of whichever party is in power. Consequently, the NHRIs often fail to act against the government. The procedures for appointment are secret. The requirement of consultation with the leader of the opposition for appointment of the members has proven to be highly inadequate and a mere formality.
National Commission for Women: Not serving the purpose (!) according to CAG
Congress leader, Girija Vyas has been heading the NCW since 9 April 2008. She is also a serving Member of Parliament (Lok Sabha). Being a member of Parliament, the question remains whether Vyas is able to give adequate time.
The Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG) in its report released to the media in April 2010 held that the NCW was not serving the purpose! According to the CAG, only 7,509 cases out of total 12,895 complaints received by the NCW during 2008-09 were taken up. Of the 7,509 cases taken up, only 1,077 (14%) were disposed of. Mandatory requirements like jail visits to assess living conditions of women prisoners have not been made for the past 4 years i.e. from 2006 to 2009.
In addition, the CAG hinted at financial improprieties. Grants amounting to Rs 23.30 lakhs were made to 22 NGOs/individuals between 2005-2006 and 2008-2009 but the NCW has not received even an interim report in 15 cases. The CAG report also found huge financial irregularities in the functioning of the NCW. These include irregular payment of salaries and allowances amounting to Rs 71.68 lakhs against lapsed posts, excessive expenditure on seminars and meetings amounting to over Rs 32 lakhs and travel allowance and daily allowance claims that the inspection report was unable to verify!
NCSC: What is the object of having such a commission if no members are there?
Congress leader Buta Singh who had dubious distinction of illegally dismissing opposition led government headed by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar as Governor of Bihar was rehabilitated as the Chairperson of the NCSC. He retired on 25th May 2010 while his son, Sarbajit Singh was arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation for allegedly demanding Rs 1 crore from one contractor Rama Rao Patil, who had allegedly taken a loan of around Rs 10 crore from a co-operative society on behalf of 100 people from the Dalit community and facing a case under the Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989. The post of Chairperson had been lying vacant from 25 May 2010, whereas those of the Vice-Chairperson and two Members from 28 May 2010. Another post of Member in NCSC had fallen vacant from 29 May 2010.
While hearing a PIL filed by advocate Radhakant Tripathi, the Supreme Court on 6 September 2010 asked the Additional Solicitor General Harin Raval, “What is the object of having such a commission if no members are there?”
On 27 September 2010, the Supreme Court disposed of the petition after the government lawyer submitted that “all appointments in the National Commission for Scheduled Castes shall be made within two months from today.”’
National Commission for Scheduled Tribes: Another former Minister joins
A loyal Congress soldier, Smt. Urmila Singh, served as the Chairperson of the NCST since 18 June 2007. She demitted office on 24 January 2010 after being appointed as the Governor of Himachal Pradesh ruled by the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party. Since then the post of the Chairperson remained vacant for 9 months. On 25 October 2010, Mr Rameshwar Oraon, another Congress leader and former Minister of State for the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, was appointed as the Chairperson of NCST.
Considering that the NCST is required to approach the officials of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs for everything including undertaking travel, can the former junior Minister change the fate of the NCST?
NHRC: Was the government waiting for Justice Balakrishnan’s retirement?
The post of Chairperson of the NHRC remained vacant for more than one year after Justice Rajendra Babu retired on 9 May 2009. The Human Rights Protection Act, 1993 requires that the Chairperson must be a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India. Though there were two former Chief Justices, the government did not appoint any.
“Non-appointment of chairperson in accordance with the Act (Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993) in such a situation despite the presence of two eligible candidates is arbitrary, unreasonable and in violation of principles enshrined in Article 14 of the Constitution,” stated Senior Advocate Prashant Bhushan while arguing a petition before the Delhi High Court for appointment of the Chairperson of the NHRC.
On 12 May 2010, Justice K G Balakrishnan retired as the Chief Justice of India. On 3 June 2010, he was appointed as the Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission. Was the government waiting for Justice Balakrishnan to retire to appoint him as the Chairperson of the NHRC?
“Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion”. Justice Balakrishnan has his task cut out.
National Commission for Minorities: Chair is vacant
After having served as Union Deputy Minister of Commerce, Steel & Heavy Engineering and Railways, and as Minister of Tourism & Civil Aviation, Mohamed Shafi Qureshi, a Congress leader was appointed as Governor of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. He was appointed as the Chairperson of the National Commission for Minorities in August 2007. He retired after completing three years tenure on 3 September 2010. The government is yet to appoint any Chairperson.
NCPCR: Prof Shanta Sinha shines!
The state of NCPCR was no different! During July to September 2010, the NCPCR functioned just with the Chairperson, Prof Shanta Sinha! The posts of six members remained vacant for about five months until five members were appointed in the first week of October 2010.
Nonetheless, able leadership and commitment of Chairperson Prof Sinha saved the NCPCR from blushes. The Supreme Court has assigned the responsibilities to the NCPCR to monitor the establishment of the Juvenile Justice Courts across the country and vacations of the schools under the occupation of the security forces in North East India. In addition, the NCPCR has to monitor implementation of the Right to Education Act.